Why can’t you stop watching TV shows, movies or viral videos that make you cringe?
Cringe is the feeling you get when your boss cracks a joke in a meeting and no one laughs. It’s when your kid shoots a soccer ball and it misses the net by … a lot. It’s when you watch Kendall Roy from Succession awkwardly rap on stage at a celebration honoring his dad’s 50 years at the helm of the family company.
This secondhand embarrassment you feel for other people, real or fictional, is physical and emotional. It is the gut punch of a gasped “oh no!” paired with a side of “I’m glad that wasn’t me” relief.
Research usually sees cringe in a negative light – as a voyeuristic emotion that allows people to gawk at the misfortune of others.
However, in a recent study, we show that cringe-filled entertainment can actually help people better understand themselves and one another. This may be a big reason why people are so drawn to cringeworthy content in the first place.
Cringe is everywhere, but it’s especially ubiquitous in movies and on TV, where it elicits winces, laughs and embarrassment in viewers.
Scripted cringe comedy shows such as The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm have been widely successful. These shows often feature characters…